Crow Native Days are celebrated in style
CROW AGENCY, Mont. ñ If you arenít wanted in someone elseís celebration, start your own. The Crow, or Apsalooka, since the late 1990s have celebrated Crow Native Days in contrast to a celebration held in the border town of Hardin, Mont. According to local Crow members, some years ago one of the chiefs, Chief Two Leggins, was in Hardin and, as the story goes, was the victim of racism during a celebration that falls at the time of the 130th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Hardin, according to the Crow, has a reputation for racism. So the Crow Nation started its own celebration, one that instills pride and historical value to the culture while corresponding with the anniversary of the infamous battle. Held over June 23 ñ 25 this year, the Crow boasted the annual parade contained the largest number of horses with riders wearing traditional regalia in the nation. Crow, located in southeastern Montana on the Bighorn and Little Bighorn rivers, put together a celebration that included rodeo for adults and youth, and a trail ride for youths from Hardin to Crow Agency to promote a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. Tepees sprang up on the prairie, but not in such numbers as will be seen at the Crow Fair in August. The Crow Native Days consisted of traditional games, a youth rodeo, a Shoshone victory dance, a pow wow, basketball challenges, elder walks and events. Also included were bicycle races, horse races, the arrow game, an art and style show and the Crow Native pageant to select Miss Absalooka. The parade, a highlight of the entire weekend, from above the town of Crow Agency to Veterans Park just south of town, was a simulation of the past when the Crow moved from one location to another in their vast homelands to follow the seasons and their food sources. A parade of dazzlingly beautiful horses was only trumped by the elaborate and beautiful regalia worn by both men and women. According to tribal members, this was the largest parade and celebration in the past six years, and it continues to grow and expand. It, however, pales in comparison to the Crow Fair, which draws thousands of people who live in the largest tepee village in the world, the Crow people boast.
During the weekend of Crow Native Days, the Battle of the Little Bighorn was re-enacted on grounds that are said to be where the actual battle originated. The land is owned by Ken Real Bird, Crow, and his family, who together organize the re-enactment. This year, Gen. George Armstrong Custer lost again. Real Bird said that Gen. John ìBlack Jackî Pershing was quoted as saying the Plains Natives had the best light cavalry. The re-enactment tells a history of the Plains inhabitants before and at the time of contact. A famous battle that took place in what is now Wyoming was also re-enacted and explained. That battle, known as the Fetterman massacre, explained the craftiness of the Lakota war strategy. Lakota warrior Crazy Horse lured Capt. William Fetterman and 79 men into an ambush, where they were annihilated. A short battle sequence of that battle is part of the re-enactment. Fetterman had made the comment that he could defeat the Great Sioux Nation with 80 men. Hundreds of re-enactors skillfully rode at breakneck speed through the Little Bighorn River as each adversary encountered each other in battle. Reality set in when hundreds of American Indian young men riding bareback thunder through the battlefield at full gallop and left the surreal picture of horsemen clouded in dust. The re-enactment is told from the Crow perspective. The Crow were scouts for the U.S. military and scouted for Custer and the rest of the regiment. There are some variations to the story of Custerís last moments. Real Bird said that Custerís heart was cut out by women, then tossed into the river to float away; the story also tells that he was scalped. Accounts by other tribes indicate his body was not mutilated. On the land now occupied by the Real Bird ranch, members of the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota camped. It was at that location where Maj. Marcus Reno first attacked the village, only to be turned back. Following the battle, Reno was listed as a coward for not pursuing the warriors and protecting Custer. The warriors thought they had encountered Custer, but finding otherwise they turned their attention to finding their nemesis. The chase was on when the warriors charged the hill where Custer and his men were found, and spectators were treated to swift riding across the river and up a hill to find ìYellow Hair,î as Real Bird referred to him. While the re-enactment took taking place, visitors at the battlefield across the river could be seen driving through the area and sighting locations where soldiers had fallen. It is not possible to know how many or where those of the three nations of American Indians fell. Their family members took the bodies away for proper ceremonial burials. The fight that brought Custer down was not very long, according to Red Bird. And the re-enactment was choreographed to last the same amount of time. It was over in a few minutes. The re-enactment is all part of the Crow Native Days celebration and took place during all three days. Another re-enactment, performed by non-Natives, took place in Hardin, Mont., some 15 miles to the west.